Great British Sopranos
Full listing at end of review
REGIS RRC1374 [79:44]

Here we have examples – in several cases multiple examples – of the art of ten British sopranos of the first half of the twentieth century. Whether or not all are “great” is dubious, but certainly all are characterful and worth hearing. The choice of artists has been done well. Perhaps you might prefer it to include also Florence Easton or Joan Cross, but it would be hard to quibble with what has been included in terms of quality, quantity or variety. Each of the singers featured had a very individual sound and signature, and one might find it difficult on the basis of these examples to write of a characteristically British style of singing during this period.

Agnes Nicholls, wife of Sir Hamilton Harty, starts the disc off with a wonderfully spontaneous and fearless sounding account of Rezia’s great aria from “Oberon”. The sound may be very restricted but there is no mistaking the attack of the voice. To my surprise Miriam Licette, a singer who can sometimes sound excessively correct on record, is also notable for her spontaneity here. The choice of “One fine day”, sung in English, for Eva Turner is a good one, and less obvious than one of the “Turandot” extracts one might have expected. It is a glorious and very committed performance, and an interesting comparison with Margaret Sheridan (in Italian) at the end of the disc. The examples of Mary Garden and Maggie Teyte are justly well known as models of the art of idiomatic French singing. Both Isobel Baillie and Elsie Suddaby sound lovely but very unstylish in Handel compared with what we are used to today, although the latter is much better in the Purcell extract. Dora Labette’s Delius songs, with wonderfully vague accompaniments by Beecham, are interesting if not entirely convincing, and Gwen Catley’s virtuoso singing in the Adam Variations is entertaining if far from her best record. Clearly the compilers have an especial and very understandable regard for the Irish soprano Margaret Sheridan, with four long examples of her in Puccini. This is singing of obvious sincerity and vitality.

Hugo Shirley’s notes are interesting if brief, and only limited information is given about the sources of the individual recordings. The transfers are satisfactory if no more than that. This is nonetheless a fascinating, well filled and well chosen anthology which should appeal to many to whom the chosen singers are not even names or who usually avoid “historic” recordings.

John Sheppard

A fascinating, well filled and well chosen anthology.

Full listing - all singers are sopranos except where noted:

Agnes Nicholls - Weber: “Oberon” - Ocean, thou mighty monster [4:23] recorded 19 December 1911

Miriam Licette - Mozart; “ Don Giovanni” – Misera Elvira … Mi tradi [4:05] recorded 2 May 1929

Eva Turner – Puccini: “Madama Butterfly” – One fine day [4:06] recorded 10 June 1933

Mary Garden – Debussy: “Pelleas et Melisande” – Mes longes cheveux [1:45]
recorded before 1904

Maggie Teyte – Paladilhe: Psyche [2:50] recorded 26 March 1941
Hahn: Ce n’etait pas la même chose [2:34] recorded 20 May 1946 with Gerald Moore (piano)
Bizet: Chanson d’Avril [2:30]
Debussy: La flute de Pan [2:28] recorded 12 March 1936
Duparc: Phidyle [4:23] recorded 31 July 1940
Chausson: Le temps des lilas [3:52]

Isobel Baillie - Handel arr Sir Henry Wood: “Alessandro” – Ne’trionfa d’Alessandro lusinghe piu care [6:27] recorded 16 February 1949 with London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent

Elsie Suddaby - Handel: “Semele” – O sleep! Why dost thou leave me? [3:35] recorded June 1927
Purcell: “The Fairy Queen” – Hark! The echoing air [1:39] recorded 11 July 1924

Dora Labette - Delius: Cradle Song [2:15], The Nightingale [2:00], Evening Voices [4:10] recorded June and July 1929 with Sir Thomas Beecham (piano)

Gwen Catley - Adam: Variations on a Nursery Theme (Listen mother to my tale) [4:18] recorded 7 March 1949 with orchestra conducted by Eric Robinson and flute obbligato by Lionel Solomon

Margaret Sheridan - Puccini: “Madama Butterfly” – Bimba dagli occhi [8:31] recorded 1927 with Aureliano Pertile (tenor) and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan conducted by Carlo Sabajno, - Un bel di vedremo [4:28] recorded November 1926, - E questo? [4:13] recorded November 1927 with orchestra conducted by Eugene Goossens
Puccini: “La Boheme” - Si, mi chiamano Mimi [4:39] recorded 1926